Why Dolly Parton eats her own home-cooked meals on tour: 'I like to eat something comforting'
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As the fourth of 12 children, Dolly Parton spent lots of time watching her mother cook, but it's a recipe from her dad that she often uses to start her 9 to 5. "When we were growing up," she recalls, "sometimes when Momma was sick or having a baby, Daddy would help with the cooking."
Parton still makes her dad's milk gravy (a white gravy made with flour and milk and typically served with sausage and biscuits) for breakfast "at least once a week," she tells Yahoo Life. "My daddy was left-handed, so when he would make that gravy, he would call it 'left-handed gravy,' so we loved Daddy's left-handed gravy."
While she admits it's not the healthiest of breakfasts, the 77-year-old philanthropist and music icon has no regrets. "I know I eat horrible, but I don't do it all the time," she says. "Sometimes you just have to have those things that are like medicine for your soul."
Parton says she's big on meal prep, adding that when she wakes up "really early in the morning," she'll make foods like stew or a pork roast so she and husband Carl Dean, can eat throughout the week.
"I still do cook because I love the kitchen," she says. "I'm always in the kitchen making something just for my own self when I'm getting ready to go to work or so I can take a snack to work. But it's like most people that work: You only do your serious cooking on holidays and special occasions, family reunions and that sort of thing."
Parton says her recipes come mostly from memory, explaining she's not one to scour Pinterest or TikTok for dinner ideas. "I don't have the time for that," she says. "My food is not pretty but it is good. I kind of do that Southern thing my mom and my aunts did where it's about tasting good and cooking for the multitudes. I still love to cook but my sister Rachel does most of the serious cooking."
In fact, Parton and her sister, Rachel Parton George, have plans to produce a cookbook. "We're putting a cookbook out together on recipes from the past and things I've gathered traveling all around the world," Parton shares. "She's a great cook, so we're going to come out with a cookbook in the near future called Good Lookin' Cookin' because she knows how to make it pretty and make it taste good."
Because an out-of-print cookbook based on recipes from Parton's theme park, Dollywood, titled Dollywood Presents Tennessee Mountain Home Cooking, has developed a bit of a cult following, Parton says her new cookbook will also contain revamped versions of classics from the book. "We're going to rework a lot of those recipes because they're still great," she shares. "We'll refurbish that thing and use many of those same recipes."
Dollywood is famed for its food, from cinnamon bread to barbecue, but if Parton could only eat one Dollywood-famous food for the rest of her life, she'd stick with something simple. "It'd have to be something to do with potatoes because potatoes are my favorite food," she says. "I love potatoes — whether they be baked potatoes or mashed potatoes, whether they be french fries — whatever. I couldn't go without potatoes."
Chicken and dumplings is a close second for Parton, who calls the meal "one of my favorite dishes I make."
"I could eat that every day," she says. "That's the type of stuff I put in my refrigerator when I'm on tour."
On her tour bus, Parton has a refrigerator so large, the bus windshield had to be removed to install it. She also keeps a smaller back-up fridge in the bedroom of the bus. "You need a giant refrigerator because you don't have the space or time to cook on a tour bus," she says. "I cook up a bunch of stuff when I'm on tour and traveling."
"I put a bunch of containers in my freezer and my refrigerator so I have food I love," she adds. "You can order stuff from restaurants, and we usually have a catering service feed the whole band and stuff like that, but after the show, I like to eat something comforting that's food I make and know I'm gonna love."
Parton spoke with Yahoo Life as part of her work promoting her line of Duncan Hines baking products. After a successful launch in 2022, Parton added four new products to the line in 2023, including biscuit and cornbread mixes and two varieties of brownie mix.
"I was so pleased that it did so well [when it launched in 2022]," says Parton. "There were requests for new recipes ... they can't hardly keep them on the shelves and I'm proud of that."
"Of course the fans are going to want it, and we appreciate that, but we want more than just the Dolly fans to use it," she says. "There are a lot of people who live in the city or different places who are curious about Southern cooking because they've always heard about soul food, Southern cooking and Southern hospitality, and this is for them, too."
Parton's biggest advice for using the baking mix? "Don't eat the boxes," she says, "they're for souvenirs. People come to me all the time, and they used to bring these glossy photographs, but now they hand me a Duncan Hines box."
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